New treatment for straightening fingers

October 18, 2011

It happens to an estimated 3% of the population and that reportedly includes four of our former presidents.

Now a drug is making treatment for the condition easier.

The condition affects men more than women. For years it was treated with surgery, but there is another option - an injection - and it's now getting more use

It may seem like a simple request to open your hand flat, but Thomas Hucke can't do it. Over the years, his fingers have bent in and tightened due to a condition called Dupuytren's contracture. It's not usually painful, but can be frustrating.

"If you're showering, and you go to wash your face, you poke yourself in the eye with the finger," Hucke said.

Thomas' hands now bear the scars of numerous operations, performed over the past 40 years to straighten his fingers.

But this time, he is trying the first non-surgical fix. They are injections of a drug called Xiaflex. It was approved last year and is now getting more use.

Dupuytren's contracture is a thickening of tissue under the skin of the hand, thick cords form, pulling fingers in towards the palm.

The exact cause is unknown, but hand specialist Dr. Lee Osterman says it runs in families with northern European heritage and reportedly that includes many U.S. presidents.

"Reagan was operated on twice for it, senior Bush was operated on once, Bill Clinton has it, again you've got the Irish, and baby Bush has it," Dr. Osterman said.

Surgery does work, but recovery time is long and slow. This is why Thomas opted for Xiaflex this time. It softens the cord so doctors can then straighten the finger. This happens one day after the injections.

Thomas needed another treatment. This time at the knuckle to further straighten the finger.

Then the results. Despite bruising and slight pain from the injections, Thomas says it was worth it.

"This is a big difference. I haven't been able to put [my hand] flat for the better part of two years," Hucke said.

With the drug, the contracture returns about 20% of the time. That is the same as with surgery. However, Xiaflex treatments are easier to repeat if necessary, but it is does take some skill to inject it. Too much can damage the tendons.

The drug has also been shown to help frozen shoulder.

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